What has happened to cover versions of popular songs?

20 May 2024

Every week, Australian radio station Triple J, invites a band or musician to record a cover of a song, for their Like A Version show. Anything goes here. About two years ago, Sydney based Australian DJ Dave Winnel performed a cover of Africa, by Toto, not the sort of music you’d usually hear on the jays.

While Like A Version recordings are archived on the Triple J website, I’m not sure many are released as singles, where they may, or may not, chart. The idea here is to have a bit of fun.

Cover songs, where one musician records a usually popular song by another recording artist, are an integral part of music history. Many well-known acts launched their careers by recording a cover of someone else’s song. The Rolling Stones first single, for example, from 1963, was a cover of Come On, by Chuck Berry.

But today though, covers are a lost art. Or, covers of popular songs, at least, according to this chart, compiled by American musician and writer, Chris Dalla Riva. The image makes for grim viewing for fans of cover songs. In the last fifteen to twenty years, barely any cover songs — of the popular variety, that is — have made it onto the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

Surely this is not the end of the road for covers? Read more about Dalla Riva’s findings here.

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RSS is really simple, why do so many find it complicated?

17 May 2024

Chris, writing at uncountable thoughts:

RSS is a pervasive, but little known, web technology that allows you aggregate all your content into one place for easy reading. There are very few websites without an RSS feed, although many don’t advertise the link (or, even realise they have it).

When you put an RSS feed link into your RSS, it is called “subscribing”. But don’t worry — it’s totally free, and you don’t give your email address.

Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is really simple. But a lot of people don’t see it that way, and anyone who has ever syndicated their web content, has always struggled to convince their readers of that. Like, probably since RSS arrived in March 1999. Yet RSS almost had its moment, during the so-called golden age of blogging, circa 2003 to 2010.

Writers took to writing blogs, and readers took to reading blogs. Content Management Systems like WordPress churned out RSS feeds automatically. All a blogger had do was prominently post a link to their RSS feed. Really simple. Writing posts explaining what RSS was, and why it was useful, was also common. Erstwhile (by the looks of it) Australian blogger Meg Tsiamis, of (defunct) Top 100 Australian Blogs Index fame, wrote a post in 2007, outlining RSS to her mother, and other of her readers.

Sadly, the more in-depth resource she linked to, is no longer online. In other words though, we’ve been trying for years, decades, to impress upon others the simplicity and function of RSS, but too little, or no, avail. Unfortunately RSS plain simply baffled just about anyone, and everyone, who didn’t write a blog. RSS was too technical, too geeky, many people complained.

But popular perceptions of RSS were only one problem. Accessing RSS easily was another. Some argued Google closing down their popular RSS reader, er, Google Reader (which I never used), in 2013, sounded the death knell of RSS. But the real problem had always been one of uptake, or rather, lack of uptake. Geekiness aside, some people questioned the purpose of RSS in the first place.

I recall, in 2014, trying to explain the utility of RSS to a co-member of a small business coffee meeting group I was then part of. I pulled out my laptop at the cafe we gathered at one morning, and showed him my RSS reader of the time (NewsGator, I think). “Look, see, you only have to visit one website to read one hundred websites,” I said, as I scrolled through my subscription list.

He marvelled as he looked on, recognising a number of websites he visited regularly. “All you need do is get a RSS reader app, like the one we’re looking at now, subscribe to the RSS feeds you like, and you’re set,” I said. Despite my small presentation though, he still looked confused. He didn’t seem to understand why you’d stop visiting a website, to read its content elsewhere.

Oh, the frustration.

Today RSS is even simpler. No apps are needed, one only has to create an account through a RSS aggregator website, Feedly for example (free for a basic account), and start subscribing. You don’t even need to know the URL of a website’s RSS feed. Type in the regular URL, and Feedly will search for available feeds.

Subscribing to an RSS feed is really the same as following someone on Instagram (IG). And it’s just as simple. Choose an IG page you want to follow, and tap the follow button. With RSS though, instead of following, you’re subscribing, although some RSS aggregators call the process following.

Better still, and as is often reported elsewhere, your subscription is anonymous (you could follow my RSS feed, and I’d have no idea unless you told me), and you only see the content you want to. There are no algorithms, or annoying “suggested for you” content. How good is that?

Well, not good enough, perhaps. Until subscribing to a RSS feed literally becomes as easy as following someone on social media, selling RSS as a really simple way of following a website, will, unfortunately, remain a hard sell.

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2024 Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIAs) winners

16 May 2024

The 2024 Australian Book Industry Awards (ABIAs) were held last week, on Thursday 9 May. The ABIAs are considered the Australian book publishing industry’s night of nights. A book-ish version of the Oscars, if you will.

Award winners include Pip Williams, with her novel The Bookbinder of Jericho, in the General Fiction Book of the Year category. I’ve read the predecessor title, The Dictionary of Lost Words, a story with the publishing of the first edition of the Oxford Dictionary, as a backdrop.

Wifedom: Mrs Orwell’s Invisible Life, by Anna Funder, won Biography Book of the Year, while Welcome to Sex, written by Melissa Kang and Yumi Stynes, which garnered some controversy last year, took out Book of the Year for Older Children (ages 13+).

The full list of winners can be seen here.

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Minutes to hours, hours to days, this is how you spend your time

16 May 2024

A breakdown of how people, Americans in this case, spend their time, by each decade of their life. Things like sleeping, eating, working, caring for others, and socialising. The crunch is definitely on in our thirties, forties, and fifties, when time for sleep and socialising, for instance, is reduced.

Kurzgesagt also did a presentation a few years ago on how we spend the years of our lives. It does make you stop and think. Once you leave home, your parents place, and here Kurzgesagt offered twenty-five as an average age for this, you will likely see exceedingly little of them thereafter:

If you are making an effort to be with your parents for two full weeks each year for the rest of their lives, which covers the main holidays, birthdays and a bit extra, you still have already spent more than 90% of the time you will ever spend with them, even if they grow pretty old.

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The 2024 Miles Franklin longlist for Australian novel writing

16 May 2024

Well this is exciting, the longlist for the 2024 Miles Franklin literary award for Australian novel writing, has been published. Not sure how I missed the official announcement, but I went searching for a date the longlist would be unveiled, and instead found the longlist itself:

  • Only Sound Remains, by Hossein Asgari
  • Wall, by Jen Craig
  • Strangers at the Port, by Lauren Aimee Curtis
  • Anam, by André Dao
  • The Bell of the World, by Gregory Day
  • Edenglassie, by Melissa Lucashenko
  • The Sitter, by Angela O’Keefe
  • Hospital, by Sanya Rushdi
  • Stone Yard Devotional, by Charlotte Wood
  • Praiseworthy, by Alexis Wright

Praiseworthy, which won the 2024 Stella Prize, and Charlotte Wood’s Stone Yard Devotional, are notable inclusions. I loved Wood’s 2019 novel, The Weekend, and I guess a few other people also, as the film option was sold a couple of years ago, and a stage adaptation was also made.

I can’t — as yet — find a date the shortlist will be announced. Come to that, I couldn’t even find a date the longlist would be published, I just seemed to stumble upon it last night. I can’t figure out why they need to be so elusive about these things. The Miles Franklin is after all one of the highlights of the Australian literary calendar.

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Like describing a photo to a friend, how to write alt-text

15 May 2024

Web designers and bloggers have been able to use alternative text, often referred to as “alt-text”, to describe images and photos, for decades. Alt-text helps people with little or no vision comprehend a website image, so long as the description is reasonably accurate.

In recent years social media has caught up, and most channels, Instagram, Threads, Mastodon, and Bluesky among them, allow users to add alt-text to images they post.

The facility has left people wondering though about the best way to describe an image. Sadly, writing something like “a photo of my cat” as alt-text for a photo of a pet, doesn’t quite cut it.

A person with low vision knows your photo is of a cat, but is left wondering what sort of cat, what colour is the cat’s hair, and so on. So some degree of detail is useful.

Scott Vandehey, writing at Cloud Four, offers a straightforward suggestion for writing alt-text: imagine yourself describing something you’re looking at, to someone who you’re on the phone to:

I find people often get too wrapped up in what the “rules” are for alternative text. Sure, there are lots of things to be aware of, but almost all of them are covered under this simple guideline. If you were talking to a friend on the phone and wanted to describe a meme you saw, you might say “There was this dog wearing safety glasses, surrounded by chemistry equipment, saying ‘I have no idea what I’m doing.'”

The great thing about writing alt-text is the way you can write it once, say on a Notes file, but publish indefinitely, depending how many channels you end up posting the image to. It’s what I do now. Write a caption and alt-text first, then start posting across my socials.

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A simple text editor named Tine, by Martin Dorazil

15 May 2024

A text editor without the bells and whistles, called Tine. A nice name for a text editor.

The main goal of this editor is to keep the focus on the text editing and not be distracted too much by buttons, tabs, menus, and animations.

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Angel Baby, a story of doomed loved, and changing Australian accents

14 May 2024

A scene from Angel Baby, a film by Michael Rymer, depicting stars Jacqueline McKenzie and John Lynch.

A scene from Angel Baby, a film by Michael Rymer, depicting stars Jacqueline McKenzie and John Lynch.

Angel Baby, trailer, is the 1995 debut feature of Australian filmmaker Michael Rymer. You may have seen some of his other work: Battlestar Galactica, Hannibal, both TV series, and/or his 2012 feature, Face to Face, but likely you’ve not have heard of Angel Baby.

Filmed in Melbourne, Angel Baby tells the story of a doomed love shared by Kate (Jacqueline McKenzie) and Harry (John Lynch), both of whom are battling severe mental illnesses. I won’t say too much more about it, except to note this is an example of under-appreciated Australian cinema.

And, possibly, an exemplification of how Australian accents have changed over thirty years. I say this because I was amazed at how distinct, how strong, some of the actor’s accents were. I live in Australia, and am surrounded by people with Australian accents.

That’s obviously a no-brainer — well, to an extent — but it means generally Australian accents should sound “neutral” to me, because I’m exposed to them daily. Mostly, that is. I spend several days a week in Sydney, a diverse city. Here, Australian accents are only a sample of the many I hear daily.

Perhaps this accounts for why I found some of the accents in Angel Baby so pronounced, so unmissable, because in reality I am not wholly immersed by them. But it seems to me, to detect an accent, local to the region you reside in, which may otherwise seem indiscernible, you need to go outside that area, to begin to perceive it.

I spent several years in London, England not Canada, and after a few months could easily detect Antipodean accents. It was an odd sensation to speak on the phone to lifelong friends living down under, and notice their accents. To notice, effectively, my accent. I wonder if you can pick up my accent on the phone, to lift a line from the Waifs’ 2002 song, London Still.

Australian accents are said to fall into three main categories: broad, general, and cultivated. The Australian accents I detected in Angel Baby had to be in the board category. Of course, there are any number of explanations as to why the accents seemed pronounced.

Could it be I was hearing not wholly familiar Melbourne variations of the Australian accent? Or could it be some of the actors were asked to emphasise their accents, Angel Baby being an Australian production, and all. Perhaps Rymer wanted people, particularly overseas audiences, to make no mistake they were watching an Australian film.

But I also began wondering if the internet was playing some part in my hearing Australian accents on Australian soil? Angel Baby was made in 1995. The year after 1994, which Angela Watercutter, writing recently for Wired, described as the last year before culture began to migrate online.

Could it be imagined Australian accents were among this migration, where they began to blend with every other English language accent, every other accent full stop, and begin altering? Of course, accents from other global regions are still distinct. I have no trouble discerning, for example, Irish, North American, or English accents.

Or those of other cultures, because different accents stand out. But might thirty years of internet culture, monoculture perhaps, be making a difference? Unlike thirty years ago, today we are constantly hearing, constantly absorbing, the voices of speakers from across the globe, on the web, and social media.

Might this be resulting in accents — I don’t know — dissolving into each other a bit? Are we unwitting students of elocution lessons, being served up through the world wide web? Accordingly, a “normal” Australian accent of thirty years ago, may sound quite different today. But who knows? Perhaps I am only imagining this would-be diction.

One thing is certain though. If you have the chance, look at Angel Baby. If you’re a Kanopy member, it may be available in your region.

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Unwanted AI-generated content has a name: slop

14 May 2024

Seen at Simon Willison’s Weblog:

Not all promotional content is spam, and not all AI-generated content is slop. But if it’s mindlessly generated and thrust upon someone who didn’t ask for it, slop is the perfect term for it.

Spam and slop. Now there’s a diet guaranteed to be bad for your health and mental well-being.

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An Australian study on IndieWeb, decentralised social media

13 May 2024

Wing Pang is studying Design in Visual Communications at the University of Technology, Sydney, in Australia. As part of the degree course, she’s doing an assignment looking at IndieWeb, and decentralised social media, such as Mastodon. She’s interested in hearing the views of people on the subject, and if you’re interested in offering your thoughts, you can do so via this study form.

Pang will be using the data she gathers here, as the basis for creating an easy to understand guide to Small/IndieWeb, for people who are new to the topic. The study only takes a few minutes to complete, so is well worth considering.

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